Written originally for Wonders in the Dark.
by Jaime Grijalba.
V/H/S/2 (2013, Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sánchez, Timo Tjahjanto, Adam Wingard)
First of all: Rex Reed is wrong. Second thing: when is he ever not wrong? Anyway. Some of us have a soft spot for horror compilations, either they be compilations of horror trailers mashed together in what seems to be the wildest of seamless narratives, or in the way that directors with different looks and inclinations come together to participate with short films to a movie with or without a linking narrative. Then there’s some of us who even like the episodic horror, the one that television made most famous, and the one that is being more carefully regarded and praised in the saturday posts Sam Juliano has about the episodes of those TV shows that showcased the short horror piece that we’ve all come to love and hate at the same time. As always, we know that in the end when we finish some of the shorts in a compilation are essentialy weaker or even just plain bad compared to some others that are brilliant and even among the best cinematic work of the genre in a long time, it has happened, and at the same time it’s sad to think that the merit of a director’s short film has to be accompanied by that of the rest of the directors, that may or may not be as good as that masterpiece that can be found. We all have our favorites, and this particular movie is one of the recent horror compilation films that actually work and at the same time gives us a masterpiece, one that will surprise and shock anyone who sees it, and at the same time, preaches its greatness to the world. Reviewing this kind of films is easy, you just take every short and write a paragraph out of each, so, let’s just do that.
Tape 49, directed by Simon Barrett.
This is what we can call the ‘wraparound’ film that serves a kickstart to the rest of the short films that will play in the rest of the film, as in the original ‘V/H/S’ (2012) (that you absolutely don’t have to see to enjoy this one) it is by far the weakest part of the film, as it mostly doesn’t make sense and never does something original or interesting that we’ve never seen before. We see two investigators of sorts that record everything, that seems to be their advantage when considering contracting them instead of the guy next door, they seem to have a billion cameras, they put some in their car, they carry not only one but two when they go around investigating. A woman assigns them the mission to investigate her son, who has been incommunicated for the past few weeks… they decide to raid his apartment and find whatever they can, they don’t find the kid (at the start) but they do find a bunch of VHS tapes and a video on a mac computer that seems to be a recording of the kid speaking to the camera about the importance of the tapes. As the female investigator stays and watches the strange videos (that are the shorts that I’ll explain as the review progresses) she becomes entranced and strange. It doesn’t provide any light on the subject of the tapes, it doesn’t explain much and it tries to find some way to tie in with the original 2012 film. Why? I think that the V/H/S series, should it continue, don’t need the narrative to tie in the shorts, they should just be under the premise of being in the first person/found footage gimmick, and it should all be fine.
Phase I Clinical Trials, directed by Adam Wingard.
Maybe the weakest of the shorts that come from the VHS tapes that are played in the main narrative, but it’s still pretty good for its ambitions, its main problem is just that it’s a bit strange when it comes to the explanations and reasons of the supernatural. Our protagonist is a man who has lost an eye due to some kind of accident that is never fully clear, so we start the film with the recordings done by his brand new cybernetic eye that has been implanted as some kind of clinical trial that he has given access to because of… reasons. The thing is that the eye synchs and works perfectly, but the doctors at the hospital warn him that everything that he sees is being recorded, and since he is a patient that is receiving the eye for free, he can be happy enough that he can repay them through that kind of violation of his own privacy. Of course, the new eye can see things that no normal eye can: ghosts start appearing and haunting his house, they seem to be looking for something specific and at the same time they have some zombie-like attitudes. He is obviously freaking out and the scientists can do nothing about it, until he comes across a girl who happens to have an extra-sensory hearing after an implant that makes her able to listen to the ghosts that our protagonist is hearing. The whole concept is really interesting, but everything that comes to our mind as we think about this premise is just never achieved. The movie becomes something that may be qualified as… predictable.
A Ride in the Park, directed by Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sánchez.
This is an interesting concept that maybe has been explored before, but in this particular short the execution is at the same time scary, entertaining and times hilarious. A mountain bike rider prepares his GoPro’s in his helmet and bike for a ride as he rides in a big national park before lunch, but the bad luck strikes as he has found himself in the middle of the zombie outbreak, and he is bitten. So, the rest of this short we see the movie under the fixed point of view of a zombie: how they communicate with other zombies, the way they think, the way they act in front of crowds, how they walk, it’s incredible the amount of study put together in terms of what it actually means to be seeing things as a zombie would. At the same time, there’s some incredibly gory and at the same time spectacular special effects as we see the shambling corpses moan and walk around creating havoc and chaos in the city. At the same time, it’s nice to see Eduardo Sánchez (one of the directors of the famous ‘The Blair Witch Project’ (1998) ) work in another found footage kind of film that actually also takes place in a foresty area, this time this national park, that even holds a surprise for us: a birthday party with a lot of kids that may not be too safe being in the kind of movie that we are talking about. It’s funny and at times emotional when you see how life is compared to death in a single being at every steps he makes.
Safe Haven, directed by Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto.
This is the masterpiece that I was talking about. This is the best short, and if I had the chance of doing that, I’d choose it as the best film that I’ve seen that pertains to the 2013 calendar. In Indonesia there is a cult that seeks for revelation, illumination and a day that everyone’s looking forward to: the end of all life and the start of something completely new. A TV crew is trying to investigate so they contact and interview the leader of the cult, and then they are lead to the huge compound that houses cultists of all the ages, including a group of children that seem to only learn songs to praise the day that it’s coming and their leader. Quickly we know that there are suspicions beyond the innocent commodity questions that the journalists ask, because they have prepared hidden cameras in the car and their shirts (little small cameras that no one can see), specially when we notice how unbalanced the leader seems to be and how violent he becomes when he asked about the situation of the children and how they are treated, how he thinks that certain people should be saved once the day comes. At the same time as this happens we have some antics between the people in charge of the filmed report, where a pregnancy and cheating is involved, all this as a big siren announces that the most awaited day of the cult has finally come. I need to stop here, I can’t tell anymore, I just have to say that it’s relentless and it deserves to be seen by everyone, with a sweet handheld cinematography that always works, hysterical acting, great special effects, moments that you just won’t forget (the image at the top comes from this particular short), directed with such a gracious sense of what works and what doesn’t, what are you capable of accepting… in repeat viewings this film just keeps getting better and better and better. This one is worth the price of admission alone.
Slumber Party Alien Abduction, directed by Jason Eisener.
One of the most divissive shorts of the compilation, some praise it to high heavens while the rest just hates it, mainly because of the ending, but I think that in the end it was what the short needed. Well, the title of the short should say a lot about what it’s about, but this might be one of the only ones who feels as if it was recorded in a VHS, as it starts with a bunch of kids shooting their own movie as they are given the news that they will be left alone under the charge of an older female relative that takes obvious advantage of the situation by inviting her boyfriend. Obviously, as the day progresses we are given clues on how an alien ship seems to have crashed nearby, and like in the most disturbing and frightening scene of ‘Signs’ (2002), the aliens attack the kids and they must run away as fast as possible, all this followed by the dog that has the camera attached to it (because they were using him as a dolly for shooting their film). The special effects and the colors remind you of the 80′s and early 90′s films about invasions, aliens and fake documentaries about how families were taken by aliens. Clearly stylistic more than plot oriented, most of the time the characters are screaming and shouting at the top of their lungs, appearing at different places in the countryside. It’s confusing, but it’s a well made piece that entertains until the end.